The Mental Game Of Water Polo
Make Your Mind Your Best Weapon
Bill Cole, MS, MA
I've been the mental game coach to dozens of top national water polo
players over the years. I've also been mental coach to many swimmers and
divers, ranging from high school, state, national, international to the Olympic
One key difference between an average water polo player and a top player is
their ability to focus their mind under pressure. For example, note how this
world-class golfer describes his ability to focus during a tournament. He was
able to consistently stay in the moment in a very big event. What he says
applies directly to water polo. You need to keep your mind in the present, not
let it slip back to the past, or into the future.
"I think from a mental standpoint I was as good as I've ever been. I never let
myself get ahead of myself. I never thought about what would happen if I
won, what comes with it. I wanted to execute every shot. I wanted to stay in
the moment. I wanted to stay within myself. I knew I was playing good going
in, but I've been playing good going into a lot of tournaments before and
haven't had the results I'd like. I was proud of myself to stay in it, to slow
down a little bit, to slow my thinking down and really focus on what I was
doing and not let my mind wander at all."
Gary Woodland, winner of the 2019 US Open Golf Championships
How about you? How often are you able to practice and play with your mind
in the present?
Here are five mental strategies that will help you build and maintain a laser-
focused mind so you can boost your confidence.
Confidence Is Over-Rated: I know this sounds surprising, but it's true.
At the upper reaches of sport, pressure and nerves are always there. I've
been fortunate to have been a mental coach during two Olympics and with
many Team USA athletes. Very few athletes at that level see their sport as
"fun and giggles". They see it far more as a matter of serious achievement,
status, self-identity, and personal satisfaction. So at those levels I encourage
joy of achievement over fun, and teach them mental toughness, which is the
ability to be comfortable, while being uncomfortable. This is the ability to be
able to compete, yet while still at times being somewhat nervous.
Plenty of athletes are quite afraid when they compete, but they succeed
anyhow. Absence of fear is not required to succeed. It's nice, but not
necessary. In fact trying to be fear-free causes more pressure and almost
always leads to choking. Many, many athletes win when they are not all that
confident. Here are two famous golfers describing this common phenomena:
"We all choke, and the man who says he doesn’t choke is lying like hell. We
all leak oil. I had a three-foot putt for $30,000. I made the putt, but my
knuckles were white, and do you know how hard I have to squeeze the
putter to get my knuckles white?
Lee Trevino, with 89 professional golf wins, two US Opens, two
British Opens and one PGA Championship.
"Man, I couldn’t even breathe. I couldn’t smile because my lips were stuck to
JoAnne Carner, with 43 victories on the LPGA Tour, and a member of
the World Golf Hall of Fame. This quote describes the win that put
her into the LPGA Hall Of Fame.
- Avoid Task Saturation:This is a United States Air Force term that pilots
use. Task saturation means you have mental overload. In a water polo
match, it can be all too easy to over-think. And over-thinking is the number
one mental roadblock athletes fall victim to. You think about your strategy,
the opponent's strategy, your technique, the score, the momentum, the
outcome and all else. Your mind wanders all over and escalates into overload
mode. To prevent that, take time between plays to clear your mind. Follow
your routines and rituals.
- Be Proud Of Your Accomplishments: No one can GIVE you confidence.
You have to earn it. But when someone gives you a compliment, don't deflect
it. External validation is part of becoming confident. What can you be proud
of? Your hard work that few people are willing to do, or are able to do. The
guts you have to put yourself on the line in a contest, to participate in a
zero-sum game, where to win, the other person must lose. Being rated or
ranked at the level you have achieved. What percentage of people who EVER
play your sport even get ranked at all? All of these are accomplishments that
should make you proud.
- Use A Go-To To Achieve Quiet Eye: Quieting your mind is the number
one best way to get in the zone. Here's how to do that. Pre-contest, sit quietly for one minute or so as you look at an object in front of you.
Keep your eyes relaxed, but fixed on this object. Breath deeply in through
your nose, and out through your mouth. Relax your lower jaw and allow your
mouth to remain slightly open. Within seconds, your mind will begin to
become calm, to clear out, and your thinking will decrease. This is called
quiet eye, leading to quiet mind, the best entry point to the zone. The visual
object is called a "Go-To" and you can also use this for a few seconds
anytime in dead time periods of the contest to regain quiet eye.
- Use A Mantra To Block Out Unwanted Thoughts: Every athlete has
some negative or distracting thoughts or images that come into their head.
That's normal. But you want to eventually block them out. Here's how.
Choose a word or phrase that symbolizes how you want to feel when you
compete. This may be something like "present", "clear", "in the now",
"focused", "right here, right now", or just simply "now". This becomes your
mantra, a word or phrase you repeat in your mind both before the contest
and during dead time periods in the contest. Let's say your word is "now". It
would go like this: In your mind or under your breath, say the word "now"
...(pausing)... "now"... (pausing)... "now" ...(pausing)...etc. After just a few
seconds your mind will have nothing in it except for the word "now" and your
mind will be quiet and calm. However, don't use this when the ball is in play.
You'll distract yourself.
Now you can see how these mental strategies can help you clear your mind,
block out unwanted thoughts, and build your confidence. If you know what to
do, that gives you confidence. That's called confidence through competence.
If you know what you're doing, what's the problem? There IS no problem,
because you have a plan and you have trust in your mental skills. The
combination of having a clear mind, the ability to be comfortable while being
uncomfortable, and deep self-confidence is an unbeatable formula for
success. Take that into your contests and you'll come out a winner.
Copyright © Bill Cole, MS, MA 2001-2020 All rights
This article covers only one small part of the mental game.
A complete mental training program includes motivation and
goal-setting, pre-event mental preparation, post-event review
and analysis, mental strengthening, self-regulation training,
breath control training, motor skill training, mental rehearsal,
concentration training, pressure-proofing, communication training,
confidence-building, breaking through mental barriers, slump
prevention, mental toughness training, flow training, relaxation
training, momentum training, psych-out proofing and media
For a comprehensive overview of your mental abilities you
need an assessment instrument that identifies your complete
mental strengths and weaknesses. For a free, easy-to-take
65-item sport psychology assessment tool you can score right
on the spot, visit https://www.mentalgamecoach.com/Assessments/MentalGameOfSports.html.
This assessment gives you a quick snapshot of your strengths
and weaknesses in your mental game. You can use this as a
guide in creating your own mental training program, or as
the basis for a program you undertake with Bill Cole, MS,
MA to improve your mental game. This assessment would be an
excellent first step to help you get the big picture about
your mental game.
Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on peak performance, mental toughness
and coaching, is founder and President of the International Mental Game Coaching
Bill is also founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps
organizations and professionals achieve more success in business, life and sports.
He is a multiple Hall of Fame honoree, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published
book author and articles author, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league
pro sports, big-time college athletics and corporate America. For a free, extensive
article archive, or for questions and comments visit him at www.MentalGameCoach.com.
Article Source: https://www.MentalGameCoaching.com
Return to The Mental Game
of Water Polo Articles directory.